Speech by Chair of the Arctic Council, Ambassador Peter Stenlund

Speech by Chair of the Arctic Council, Ambassador Peter Stenlund

5th Northern Forum General Assembly October 29 - 31, 2001 Edmonton, Alberta


The Northern Forum has been granted observer status in the Arctic Council, the high-level intergovernmental forum of the Arctic countries. For me, as Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials, it is very rewarding to be here at the 5th Northern Forum Assembly in Edmonton, Alberta.

The Northern Forum and the Arctic Council share the same challenge; namely, how to promote sustainable development in the north. Now, as the Arctic Council is expanding its program for sustainable development, the messages from this Assembly are of great value to us. Thank you for inviting me to your Assembly and for giving me the opportunity to talk about Arctic Council activities of relevance to regions in the circumpolar Arctic.

Mr. Chairman,

Arctic circumpolar co-operation among governments was born along with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The new geopolitical landscape of the north offered completely new avenues for joint action in the circumpolar region. The background to the birth of your organization is very much the same. New opportunities emerged to direct trans-border cooperation at the subnational level.

In 1989, Finland took the initiative by commencing organized cooperation among the eight Arctic countries for the protection of the Arctic environment. The Arctic countries, that is to say those countries with an outreach above the Arctic Circle, adopted The Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS) in 1991.

As a follow-up to the Finnish initiative, Canada proposed the establishment of an Arctic Council that would have a comprehensive mandate covering all aspects of sustainable development. In 1996, Arctic Foreign Ministers agreed upon the Ottawa Declaration - and the Arctic Council was founded. The objectives of co-operation were extended to cover the whole concept of sustainable development, including its social, cultural, ecological and economic dimensions.

The structure of the Arctic Council, with all Arctic countries as Members, and the Arctic indigenous peoples participating in the work on an equal footing, enables the Council to represent this unique region with considerable legitimacy. Close contacts among the capitals and the Arctic sub-regions anchor the activities in Arctic communities. The Arctic Council is a unique international forum for co-operation between national governments and indigenous peoples - an arrangement which might serve as a model in other parts of the world.

The engagement of governments in the Arctic Council structure serves the purpose of raising in their capitals awareness of the Arctic and the challenges it faces. Better knowledge of Arctic problems is a precondition for the second role of functioning as a mouthpiece for the Arctic circumpolar region in international forums. The resolution of many Arctic concerns must be sought in the global arena.

Mr. Chairman,

The role of the Arctic Council as a legitimate mouthpiece of the Arctic has, however, not remained unchallenged. In a report prepared for the Fourth Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region in Rovaniemi, in August 2000, and for the Finnish chairmanship of the Arctic Council, professor Oran R.Young warns that the Arctic Council is in danger of being perceived by residents of the circumpolar north as just another in a long line of efforts on the part of the metropolises to control northern affairs from afar.

Professor Young commends the Council for having made an effort to address concerns of indigenous peoples by granting to them the status of Permanent Participants. However, he judges that the present observer status of the Northern Forum is too weak to provide meaningful roles for supranational bodies, subnational units of government and non-state actors. According to Young, the development of an appropriate relationship with the Northern Forum would help to alleviate this problem.

At the Arctic Council Barrow Ministerial one year ago, the Governor of Lapland, Ms. Hannele Pokka, called for a more substantial role for the Northern Forum in cooperation with the Arctic Council.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Finnish Chair of the Arctic Council is committed to strengthening the Arctic Council’s interaction with the Arctic and to enhancing cooperation between the Council and the Forum.

Finnish regional actors and authorities are cooperating closely in handling the responsibilities of the Chair. Regional authorities, research centres, the University of Lapland, Saami and reindeer herders’ organizations are all involved in the Arctic Council Working Group and project activities. Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs is acting as a coordinator and a prime mover. All relevant ministries, regional actors, the Saami people, NGOs, parliamentarians and private business are represented in a national reference group.

My understanding is that regional actors in other Arctic states are involved in the work along the same lines as in my country. Representatives of the Arctic regions are regularly included in the national delegations to the meetings of the Arctic Council.

The structure of the Arctic Council does not allow direct representation of every individual sub-region in the entire Arctic area. Close cooperation with the Northern Forum offers the solution to this dilemma. The Northern Forum is an increasingly plausible representative of regional authorities and leaders in the circumpolar region – even if there are still some gaps on the membership map.

One complicating aspect is the differing geographical coverage of our institutions. The focus of the Arctic Council is truly Arctic while the Northern Forum also includes other northern areas. Sub-regions of states which have not even applied for observer status in the Arctic Council are founder members of the Northern Forum, which also has one non-arctic state as a member. This situation means that the Northern Forum as it stands cannot be conceived as the sub-regional stratum of the Arctic Council.

On the other hand, it would be superfluous to develop a structure similar to the one in the Barents cooperation because the Northern Forum is an existing and well-functioning organization. Taking into account the geographically broader responsibilities of the Northern Forum, its present status as observer in the Arctic Council seems appropriate from both partners' point of view. It is simply a fact that the Arctic Council cannot offer any other status within the present structure. Membership is reserved for the Arctic governments, the position of permanent participants is reserved for the indigenous peoples’ organizations and permanent observer status is for other Arctic partners.

The Arctic Council seems to be a popular partner – we have already more than twenty observers and new applicants are waiting in line. Among the observers we have countries, international organizations, think tanks and NGOs. Observership has been sought with various expectations. The rich diversity of contacts the Arctic Council offers is much appreciated. Several observers have found their relevant counterparts among the Working Groups, to the work of which they contribute financially and/or intellectually. The agenda of the Northern Forum seems to correspond especially well with the program of the Arctic Council Working Group on Sustainable Development.

The Arctic Council has no heavy administration and no budget of its own. The evolvement of this cooperative arrangement depends directly on the political commitment of governments, whose priorities may change over time. The Council is obliged to continuously justify its existence and its activities in the eyes of governments.

This situation has often been regarded as a structural weakness – we have a chronic discussion on the need to establish a permanent secretariat and a central budget. The present situation could also be seen as a strength – as an arrangement appropriate in the information society era. The absence of a permanent administration, one that develops a life and routines of its own, ensures close and intensive contacts among the Members, whose responsibilities cannot be delegated to any anonymous substitute. The role of the Chair is to serve as the hub of a network in active operation.

The experience of this fresh way of organizing international co-operation is encouraging. For example, in monitoring and assessment, expertise from all participating states has been brought together with the assistance of only small secretariats. Path-finding reports have been prepared and have attracted global attention to the condition of the Arctic environment. The start-up of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment project (ACIA) is the latest encouraging example of the commitment of all Arctic states and several observers to combine knowledge and work for a common, urgent purpose.

It is fair to say that the Arctic Council has not yet been able to fully use all the capacities that the observers could offer. The depth of cooperation with a specific observer also depends much on the observer. Observers who can contribute with financial resources, and/or knowledge, to joint projects and activities will certainly not be overlooked by the Arctic Council. For that reason, I can see new avenues for the Northern Forum’s involvement in activities which would contribute to pertinent circumpolar Arctic strategies.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Arctic Council Ministerial in Barrow, Alaska, in October 2000, brought the Council into a new phase. The Ministerial agreed upon a strategic framework document on sustainable development – the Barrow chapeau. With this foundation for further cooperation in place the economic, social and cultural aspects of sustainable development will come more into focus in the Arctic Council. Themes such as public health, telemedicine, distance learning, the future of children and youth, the role of women and sustainable infrastructure development are all linked to efforts aimed at enhancing quality of life and stemming migration from Arctic regions.

As a follow-up to this strategic decision, the Sustainable Development Working Group has developed a number of projects and activities which may be of interest to the Northern Forum.

Capacity building is an overriding principle, which is being integrated into projects and joint activities throughout the Arctic Council. Later this week, Canada, in cooperation with Finland, is arranging a workshop in Helsinki on capacity building.

Children and youth are in focus. The Arctic populations are still very dependent on traditional sources of livelihood. With technological advances, the traditions of utilizing the environment and its renewable resources for survival have often become economically unviable and sometimes in conflict with sustainable use. New sustainable economic activities are urgently needed to support a population that would be big enough to keep communities viable and able to provide a future for children and youth in those communities.

Education and training that is well suited to the future need for professionals in the Arctic itself is and should be a priority. This summer I had the opportunity to study how the Inuit leaders in Nunavut, in the Canadian North, are developing education and training services on terms decided largely by themselves. For example, there is an urgent need for nurses and other health care personnel familiar with the health situation and attitudes and values of northerners.

Distance learning is an obvious priority in the Arctic. The University of the Arctic is developing a network to link institutions of higher and vocational education in the Arctic. A central online entryway or portal will be established with the aim of making it possible for students of the institutions involved to participate in online course work, to register and obtain other student services, such as student-tutor communication, inter-student group work and other interaction.

A project on emerging and infectious diseases has the goal of establishing an integrated circumpolar surveillance network linking hospitals and public health laboratories throughout the Arctic for the purpose of monitoring emerging and infectious diseases in Arctic communities. In a survey of living conditions among the Saami and Inuit peoples new indicators of living conditions are being developed.

Telemedicine has been identified as a factor in improving quality of life in remote Arctic areas. The lack of a reliable physical infrastructure limits expansion of telemedicine in many isolated parts of the Arctic. There is great interest in developing closer contacts among experts on telemedicine in different parts of the Arctic so that they can share experiences on how difficulties could be best overcome.

All these and other projects are important building blocks in the implementation of the Arctic Council Sustainable Development Program. The Standing Committee of Parliamentarians in the Arctic has recently approached the Council with a request to prepare a comprehensive human development report, which could be delivered also to the UNDP within the framework of its global reports. This important initiative could be considered at the next Ministerial in Inari, in October 2002.

The Barrow chapeau document also gave impetus to new activities addressing ways of creating new jobs and providing livelihood for people in the Arctic without endangering existing sources of livelihood or the fragile environment.

Global market demands and technological progress offer new opportunities for expanded utilization of natural resources in the Arctic, including oil, gas, metals and minerals. If properly managed, these opportunities can bolster sustainable growth and well-being in the region. But, without precautionary measures the traditional livelihood of indigenous and other local people, as well as the existence of vast areas of pristine nature, could be in danger. Securing sustainability in the use of natural resources, including biological resources, is an important challenge for all Arctic states.

At the 10th anniversary of Arctic environmental cooperation in Rovaniemi, Finland’s prime minister, Paavo Lipponen, called for an Arctic Code of Conduct for the use of natural resources based on the principle of precautions. Impact on the environment should be assessed as well as on the living conditions of indigenous and other local populations and their traditional sources of livelihood.

Tourism is rapidly expanding in many parts of the Arctic but not always in a sustainable manner and sometimes in conflict with the interests of indigenous and other local people. Alaska has launched a project on ecological and cultural tourism and the province of Lapland intends to complement this initiative. One of the observers, the World Wide Fund for Nature, has presented its own guidelines on sustainable tourism. The Arctic Council could prepare governmental guidelines for sustainable Arctic tourism, which could serve in a dialogue between local, indigenous, regional, national and private interests in tourism. The Northern Forum could contribute considerably to this quest.

A Norwegian-led project on sustainable reindeer herding is being developed in cooperation with the Association of World Reindeer Herders. The experience gained and knowledge acquired in the Northern Forum’s reindeer projects should be utilized in the further development of reindeer-related activities of the Arctic Council. Regional actors in Finland are ready to share their experience in sustainable reindeer management, related product development and processing as well as in training.

In September, representatives of transport ministries of the Arctic states convened at the Finnish-Swedish border in Lapland, in the town of Tornio, to discuss the scope for circumpolar cooperation in transport. This workshop took into account the work done by the Alaskan Circumpolar Infrastructure Task Force. The next step in circumpolar transport cooperation was taken earlier today at a workshop led by CITF. In this field, too, the Arctic Council and the Northern Forum complement each other and should seek synergies in their future work.

Information and communication technology is a growing talking point in the Arctic. Somewhat surprisingly, the Barrow framework document does not contain any specific reference to ICT, only to infrastructure in general terms.

It is obvious that ICT could make a vital contribution to sustainable development and well-being in the Arctic. The Arctic Council has so far dealt with ICT mainly through projects on telemedicine and distance learning and by linking researchers and other experts within different disciplines with the help of e-mail, the internet and websites.

The Arctic digital divide is a reality, both inside the circumpolar Arctic region and between this region and more densely populated areas. The divide can be seen as a total absence of infrastructure or as higher costs and less efficiency compared with urban centres. This reality is confirmed by the OECD in its fresh report “Understanding the digital divide”. The report states that in remore areas network infrastructure tends to be more expensive and of lower capacity and quality than in urban centres.

Alternative modes of internet access, cable TV, satellite transmission as well as mobile telephony may be useful means of narrowing the digital divide, at least in some parts of the Arctic. If part of the revenue from utilization of Arctic natural resources could be reserved for telecommunications development, the sustainability of Arctic communities could be strengthened. An obligation to finance internet access for schools and other local and regional public institutions, plus the establishment of internet cafés and other ICT facilities, could be included in concessions for the utilization of natural resources.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Arctic Council has an explicit responsibility to raise Arctic circumpolar concerns in international forums. Finland, as the chair of the Arctic Council during the period 2000–2002, is committed to strengthening the role of the Council as a mouthpiece of the Arctic.

We have already taken some important steps forward, for example in the global negotiations on Persistent Organic Pollutants and at the Annual Meeting of UNEP. At the 10th anniversary of circumpolar cooperation on the environment in Rovaniemi last June, we prepared an Arctic message for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa in 2002. This message has already been recognized by the UN Secretary General in his report to the General Assembly. At the UNECE Ministerial Statement in Geneva in September the Arctic became for the first time visible as a unique region within the Rio process.

The Arctic Council has succeeded in attracting international attention to this vast region, which was totally neglected in Agenda 21. I can assure you that this Anniversary Meeting has given me valuable further inspiration for the quest of attracting global attention to the specific concerns of the Arctic in the global efforts to promote sustainable development.

Thank you.
































































































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